By Anna Iovine
First, the obligatory caveat: There’s still so much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease that results from the virus. New genetic developments are coming everyday — so fast that even the CDC can’t keep up.
During the latest coronavirus press conference Saturday, Dr. Deborah Birx shared new findings about the virus that may contradict what the CDC currently says about transmission. Birx, the highly experienced coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said that there may be a group of people who are asymptomatic yet spreading the virus.
Birx’s task force of experts does not believe that people under 20 are immune from coronavirus, so they may have it and not show symptoms. “Are they a group that are potentially asymptomatic and spreading the virus?” Birx asked. “Because of that unknown, we don’t want to say that the risk is low when we don’t know how low the numbers are for people who are asymptomatic.”
While the administration has been focused on those who are most at risk — immunocompromised and the elderly — there is another side of the pandemic, according to Birx: transmission.
It is currently unknown how many people are asymptomatic and passing the virus along. That means that while the chance of serious illness is low, those who have it may not know it, and may be spreading it far and wide as a result.
This appears to be new information, given that the CDC says on their website that people who show symptoms are thought to be the most contagious. The website currently reads, “Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
The bottom line is this: Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus may be responsible for more cases than previously thought. More concrete information on Birx’s report may yet roll out. Regardless, this is why it is so important for everyone, literally everyone, to practice the proper precautions, even if they do not show symptoms.
“That’s why we’re asking every American to take personal responsibility to prevent that spread,” Birx said. So wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and social distance yourself already. Don’t forget, we may be able to find out after the fact whether or not you spread it.